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Photos: Scott Air Force Base serves as national hub for transport, medical evacuation

Captain Sidney Ganison of 458th Airlift Squadron walks next to a C-21 aircraft
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Capt. Sidney Ganison of 458th Airlift Squadron walks next to a C-21 aircraft on Friday at Scott Air Force Base. Pilots and staff call C-21s "the Cougar."

Scott Air Force Base is home to the only North American fleet of C-21 aircraft.

The jet is a retrofitted military-use version of the Learjet 35A Business aircraft. It is predominantly used for transporting high-ranking government and military officials on a moment’s notice as well as for aeromedical evacuation operations. A full-size stretcher can fit in the back of one of the planes. Base officials gave members of the media a flight tour of the aircraft on Friday.

Capt. Sidney Ganison of the 458th Airlift Squadron has been a pilot with the unit for about three years. While transporting high-ranking officials can be memorable, he said being able to work in medical operations stands out even more.

"Trying to get a member home in time to see their family because they have some sort of medical emergency or transporting a patient — those are the most memorable flights I've had,” Ganison said.

Typically, the base in the Metro East serves the majority of the continental United States — going as far as Alaska, Ganison explained. The international fleet located at Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany serves as the headquarters for the Air Force in Europe and will be deployed throughout the Middle East.

Capt. Johnny Frye, 31, who's from Milwaukee, recently made the change from being an Air Force electrical engineer to a pilot flying C-21 jets. “It’s a huge switch,” he said. “You go from doing desk work to being in the air on a consistent basis — it’s very fun.”

Frye said the first time he was in the cockpit was difficult to describe but a defining moment in his career. “It was unexplainable, because flying is not a natural thing that people do,” he said. “So when you first get into the aircraft, and your head is back on the seat, and it's a feeling I can't explain.”

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
458th Airlift Squadron Capts. Johnny Frye, 32, of Milwaukee, left, and Sidney Ganison, 31, of Waldorf, Maryland, go through flight pre-checks on Friday at Scott Air Force Base.

Frye and Ganison were two of a three-person team of pilots last year to make history in becoming the first all African American crew to land a C-21 jet at Alabama's historic Tuskegee airfield.

In the early 1940s, the Tuskegee Airmen became the first African American military pilots in the U.S. armed forces, when much of the military remained racially segregated. Over the course of World War II, 992 Tuskegee Airmen were trained, leading to over 15,000 missions flown across Europe and North Africa.

"It was a very inspiring event," Frye said. "Just being able to see how many African American students were pursuing flying was very emotional to me just because growing up, I knew nothing about aviation. But, the fact that we were able to just make a difference and show them — hey, it's possible — was a memory that I will never forget.”

See photos from the flight tour below:

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Brian Munoz/Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A C-21 jet on Friday at Scott Air Force Base. The aircraft is a retrofitted military-use version of the Learjet 35A Business plane. It is predominantly used for transporting high-ranking government and military officials in a moments notice as well as aeromedical evacuation operations.
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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
The Gateway Arch is painted on a C-21 jet on Friday at Scott Air Force Base. The base was previously known as Scott Field and once served as headquarters for the Air Force.
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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Military officials and members of the media aboard a C-21 aircraft on Friday while flying over the Metro East.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
The Gateway Arch and St. Louis skyline are seen from a C-21 jet on Friday while flying over the Mississippi River.
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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Collinsville High School is seen from a C-21 jet on Friday from above.
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Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
The view from a C-21 aircraft on Friday while flying over the Metro East.
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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Capt. Sidney Ganison of 458th Airlift Squadron walks past to a C-21 aircraft he is going to fly with members of the media on board on Friday at Scott Air Force Base.
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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A C-21 jet on Friday at Scott Air Force Base near O’Fallon, Ill.

Brian Munoz is a staff photojournalist and multimedia reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. You can reach him by email at bmunoz@stlpr.org and follow his work on Instagram and Twitter at @brianmmunoz.

Brian Munoz is a photojournalist and multimedia reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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